There's some argument about the year of the peak, but pretty much everyone agrees -- including the US government -- that the peak is fewer than a couple of decades away. A lot of experts says we've already hit the peak. James Howard Kunstler's piece in Rolling Stone, called "The Long Emergency," argues that the US hit its peak decades ago:
The United States passed its own oil peak -- about 11 million barrels a day -- in 1970, and since then production has dropped steadily. In 2004 it ran just above 5 million barrels a day (we get a tad more from natural-gas condensates). Yet we consume roughly 20 million barrels a day now. That means we have to import about two-thirds of our oil, and the ratio will continue to worsen.I think its inevitable that we are going to go nuclear. There's really no other way to deal with the fact that the world is hopelessly dependent on cheap energy. Fortunately, new nuclear power technologies like pebble bed reactors are much safer than the nuke plants of old. (Here's a good article about pebble bed reactors, written by Spencer Reiss in Wired. Here's a Wired article by Peter Schwartz and Spencer Reiss about "green" nuke plants. And here's another pro-nuke article that David noted a while back, written by Stewart Brand.) Link to Rolling Stone story (Thanks, Brian!)
The U.S. peak in 1970 brought on a portentous change in geoeconomic power. Within a few years, foreign producers, chiefly OPEC, were setting the price of oil, and this in turn led to the oil crises of the 1970s. In response, frantic development of non-OPEC oil, especially the North Sea fields of England and Norway, essentially saved the West's ass for about two decades. Since 1999, these fields have entered depletion. Meanwhile, worldwide discovery of new oil has steadily declined to insignificant levels in 2003 and 2004.
Reader comment: Alex Steffan at WorldChanging says "you might be interested in reading these:"
The Post-Oil Megacity (why I think Kunstler's wrong on the implications of the end of cheap oil)
The best counter-argument to nuclear as climate-change-solution I've yet read:
and my favorite take on the issue
Reader comment: Brian Carnell says: "I like nuclear power plants as much as the next guy, but the chart here shows the real reason oil discoveries have leveled off -- until recently, we had an almost two decade collapse in oil prices.
"The late 1990s saw the lowest prices for oil *EVER*. That doesn't create much incentive to find new oil deposits (just as few people were interested in exploiting the North Seas until oil went through the roof in the 1970s.)
"If these oil prices continue, they'll almost certainly spur another round of intensive oil exploration and exploitation that will once again find yet more oil." Link
UPDATE: Here's another interesting article about Peak Oil.
Colin Campbell of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas (ASPO) predicts that production will begin its decline between now and 2010.
British Petroleum exploration consultant Francis Harper believes it will happen between 2010 and 2020. Consulting firm PFC Energy puts it at around 2010 to 2015. The publication Petroleum Review predicts that demand will outstrip supply in 2007. Richard Heinberg, author of the 2003 book, The Party's Over: Oil, War, and the Fate of Industrial Societies, expects a peak in 2007 or 2008.
Retired Princeton professor Kenneth Deffeyes, author of the just-published, Beyond Oil: The View from Hubbert's Peak is more pessimistic, and more specific, about when the peak will happen: Thanksgiving Day, 2005. (His tongue appears to be in his cheek regarding the day, but not the year).
If all that is too gloomy for you, energy consultant Michael Lynch maintains that there's no peak in sight for "the next 20 or 30 years." Peter Odell of Erasmus University in the Netherlands has tacked a full 30 years onto Deffeyes' grim prediction, setting a date of Thanksgiving 2035. And Uncle Sam has the cheeriest news of all: a peak year of 2037 forecast by the Department of Energy.
Reader comment: Dwight says: "If you are going to review the peak oil issue, then the abiotic oil claims need to be looked at. Both subjects are very important and under reported. I do not yet have an opinion, just strong interest. Abiotic oil supposedly comes from deep in the earth, not from old dinosaur era bio material. This material was included from the space dust the Earth was formed with.
"While quite controversial and confusing at this point, the strongest claim is that if you do not accept abiotic oil as valid, then you have a real problem explaining how the Russians have now made themselves the number 2 oil producer. The American theories said they did not have any oil.
"In any case there are documented cases of wells refilling. There are claims of CIA sabotaged of Test Wells in Iran. Very Boingy stuff, eh?
"This site has more articles pro/con also.
"An American engineer has just published a study saying a whole lot of oil has naturally leaked into the oceans for millennia. That was why we found naturally occurring bacteria that eats oil to help clean up spills.
"Oil wells are refilling
"I have been watching this develop for a while, it started with what seemed to be one renegade Russian engineer, but now it appears that the Russian oil establishment believes this, and has kept it quite as their secret. That combined with the American oil dynasty's promoting shortage to justify their aggressive foreign policy."
Reader comment: Dan Rosen says: I have something to say in reference the the original link to Kunstler's article. Firstly, I've always found Kunstler to be a bit of a reactionary if not an outright sensationalist. While his article raises some very excellent points, I believe he overreacts when trying to predict how the social fabric of America will tear at the seams once post-peak sets in. I believe it's worth reading Ran Prieur's, The Slow Crash, for a more balanced, and in some ways more positive, outlook to what the future might hold in store for America once cheap oil is gone for good. Rather than predicting an immediate catastrophic collapse in wich anarchy will ensue, he describes a more structured breakdown of services and centralized organizations, with viable alternatives presenting themselves along the way."